For many years New Yorkers have returned bottles or cans of soda, beer and water to the store and collected the nickel deposit. Now, the list of returnables in the state could grow to include containers for coffee drinks, juice and even wine and spirits under a bill sponsored by New York State Assemblyman Steve Engelbright.
"This would change recycling across the state in some important and fundamental ways," said Conrad Cutler, who owns a warehouse in Mount Vernon, N.Y., where millions of returnables are sorted every week and returned to beverage companies.
More than 5 billion bottles are redeemed for deposit every year in New York, but that represents only about 65 percent of returnables. The rest end up in landfills, roadsides or waterways. Industry experts say adding orange juice, energy drinks and the rest to the mix will add about 2 billion.
Engelbright's bill goes beyond New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's proposal earlier this year to expand the type of containers covered by the state's bottle-deposit law. It is not clear that either idea will pass. For years the beverage industry has opposed broadening the law because it would raise the initial cost of more of its products.
Also, municipalities are wary of deposits being imposed on more types of bottles or cans because scavengers would collect some before cities can pick them up at curbside. Selling the plastic and aluminum helps cities cover the cost of their recycling programs. Glass, however, has little market value. Many upstate cities have been forced to pare back or revise their recycling programs after China's National Sword program begin turning away most recycled material.
In a bid to sweeten the recycling business, Engelbright's bill would increase the handling fee that retailers and redemption centers would collect for processing recyclables to a nickel per container from 3.5 cents. Supporters of that measure say it is needed because the 3.5-cent fee has remained the same while labor costs and other expenses have risen. But they have yet to persuade a state senator to introduce identical legislation in the upper chamber, let alone get the governor's office to endorse the idea.